by Colman McCarthy
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
In March 2004 Rosalie Riegle, a professor of English at Saginaw Valley State University in Michigan from 1969 to 2003, was one of eight Catholic Worker peace advocates arrested for trespassing at Nebraska’s Offutt Air Force Base, the command center for the military’s entire nuclear arsenal. At her bench trial, Riegle lucked out. She received no jail time. Her punishment was a verbal punch from the judge, scolding that she “was old enough to know better.”
Maybe. If she didn’t know better, it was clear she wanted to know more, starting with questions about the other disturbers in the Offutt Eight. What motivated them? And questions about the much larger community of war resisters who take to heart Albert Einstein’s advice: “Never do anything against conscience, even if the state demands it.” What effect, Riegle wondered, does imprisonment have on those who defy their government’s military violence with acts of personal nonviolence? Do marriages and relationships endure while one partner is in a cell and the other is home raising the children? How do the willingly incarcerated deal with the reality that American militarism rolls on unabated? How do they feel about of getting free room and board at the government’s expense, when the money could be used in a social program?
Detailed and insightful answers to those and other questions can be found in the pages of Doing Time for Peace. For three years after the Offutt experience, Riegle interviewed 173 conscience-driven people who took deliberate actions, from destruction of weapons to burning draft cards, to resist the war policies of a government that Martin Luther King Jr. called the “greatest purveyor of violence in the world.” Withholding complicity with leaders who wage and fund the violence, they joined the tradition of imprisoned dissenters that include the sung — Eugene Debs, Norman Thomas, Dorothy Day, the Berrigan brothers, David Dellinger, Howard Zinn, Joan Baez, Ammon Hennacy — and the unsung…